Ryan Mendes was the hero for gutsy 10-man Sharjah as they valiantly prevailed on penalties against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup.
Saturday’s first half of few chances amid the constricting 68-per-cent humidity at Dubai’s Al Maktoum Stadium reached boiling point upon the half-hour mark. UAE left-back Al Hassan Saleh floored compatriot Abdulaziz Haikal with a flailing elbow, reviews of which via the video assistant referee then convincing referee Mohammed Obaid Khadim to produce a red card.
President’s Cup holders Shabab Al Ahli predictably dominated possession from that point. The Arabian Gulf League runners-up struggled, however, to find a way past the obstinate defence of the top-flight champions.
Misses from 12 yards by Deportivo La Coruna loanee Fede Cartabia and Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor would then prove critical in the shootout. It was left to Cape Verde winger Mendes to spark a pitch invasion when his resounding effort made it 4-3 from the spot, ending the King’s 25-year wait for a third Super Cup.
Here are the talking points from UAE football’s traditional season opener:
WHAT WE LEARNED
Great insights are hard to glean from a ceremonial clash played before the top-flight action begins.
This is especially true when a player is sent off with an hour left.
What the 9,241 fans in Al Nasr’s redeveloped home did witness was a supposed upstart, in Sharjah, declining to show any deference to one of the professional game’s established powers. The shock 2018/19 AGL winners are going nowhere.
Gilded attackers Igor Coronado and Mendes dug in. Not even a stark imbalance in possession percentage of 80/20 and difference in attempts of 18/3 could rock them.
👑 @SharjahFC are the 2019/20 #AGSuperCup champions!— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague_EN) September 14, 2019
It was a hard-fought match between them & 🔴 @Shabab_AlAhliFC , but ultimately Sharjah go home with the trophy 🏆 #MatchOfChampions pic.twitter.com/VyzRZbdgkN
For Shabab Al Ahli, hotly recruited 2019 AFC Champions League top scorer Leonardo showed flashes. His delicate lofted pass in first-half injury time allowed 22-year-old forward Mohammed Jumaa to sting goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani’s hands with a half-volley – this was the tense showpiece’s only opportunity of note.
Injury prone UAE striker Ahmed Khalil’s presence as a second-half substitute offers the prospect of a required spearhead.
The lottery of the penalty shootouts witnessed Sharjah prevail.
They are here to stay. Shabab Al Ahli should be right with them.
SHAHEEN’S BIG STAND
Confusion has proliferated at Sharjah about new UAE coach Bert van Marwijk continued ignorance of warrior skipper Shaheen Abdulrahman.
Shouts for a belated call-up to October’s World Cup 2022 qualifiers against Indonesia and Thailand only increased in volume this weekend.
The gnarled centre-back – bearing a plaster on his eyebrow from the preceding Arabian Gulf Cup win at Ajman – relished the battle against Shabab Al Ahli. He was a talisman once Al Saleh was ejected and the tie descended into a classic ‘defence v attack contest’.
Al Jazira’s youthful pair of Khalifa Al Hammadi and Mohammed Al Attas are enviable talents. They exhibited, however, in last week’s tense opening 2-1 win in Malaysia that an injection of grit alongside them would not go amiss.
Abdulrahman’s industrial qualities are reminiscent of 2015 Asian Cup warrior Mohanad Salem. His case for consideration at the international stage should not be so readily dismissed.
There is much to ponder for Shabab Al Ahli coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena.
The ex-Argentina left-back ditched his usual reticence in the final throes, unable to cope with watching dead end after dead run down by numerically superior charges.
One part of their trio of foreign additions, in particular, failed to flourish. A bold call was made to mothball ex-FC Dallas playmaker Mauro Diaz and draft in Levski Sofia’s Davide Mariani.
The Swiss conductor dropped deep in a 4-3-3, failing to make any genuine impact during 62 forgettable minutes.
FULL TIME! 🔴 Shabab Al Ahli 0-0 👑 Sharjah— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague_EN) September 14, 2019
Only penalty shootouts left to separate the two sides! Who will hold their nerves and win the match from the spot? #AGSuperCup
Diaz’s debut campaign for the AGL runners-up included five goals and six assists in 23 top-flight run-outs. A solid return.
Will Mariani, or indeed Cartabia who rocked the crossbar in the shootout, match it?
Shabab Al Ahli midfielder Davide Mariani is excited about the prospect of winning his first silverware in UAE football as his side takes on Sharjah in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup at Al Maktoum Stadium on Saturday.
The Swiss playmaker insisted his team’s preparations for the game are progressing well, adding that he expects a huge show of support from the Shabab Al Ahli faithful to propel them into the title.
Mariani, a recent arrival at Rashid Stadium from Bulgarian side Levski Sofia, hailed the atmosphere at his new side as motivating for the players to perform. “I am happy to be here. Everyone is supporting me and helping me adapt to life here,” he said ahead of what is expected to be a fiery affair as the President’s Cup winners find themselves face to face with the Arabian Gulf League champions.
“I feel like we have a team spirit and that will help us achieve great things together.
“I learnt that Sharjah are a strong side with a solid squad that has won the league. We have to be at our best and give our everything to overcome them.”
Sharjah goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani, meanwhile, is predicting a difficult match, with equal chances for both sides.
“It will be a strong encounter and both sides have an equal chance until kick-off, while concentration will be key to winning,” said last season’s Golden Glove winner.
“I hope our fans will turn up in numbers to support us, because their role is as important as ours. We are used to having them by our side and with their presence, the trophy will be ours.”
Shabab Al Ahli hold the record for Arabian Gulf Super Cup wins with four titles (2008/09, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2016/17). Al Ain and Al Wahda lead the chasing pack with three titles each, while Emirates Club have a sole title in 2010/11.
Six players share top spot in the competition’s scoring charts with two strikes each. Al Ain’s Emerson in 2009/10, Emirates’ Karim Karkar in 2010/11, Wahda’s Hugo Henrique in 2011/12 and Al Ain’s Emmanuel Emenike in 2015/16.
Moroccan winger Mourad Batna is the only player to have scored in two different editions of the Super Cup with the same team, having netted for Wahda in 2017/18 and 2018/19. Ibrahim Diaky remains the only player to have scored Super Cup goals for two different sides, first in Al Jazira colours in 2011/12 then in Al Ain’s shirt last season.
Top-flight champions Sharjah are determined to show surprise success has not gone to their heads when 2019/20 kicks off in earnest with Saturday’s gala Arabian Gulf Super Cup clash against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, according to live-wire playmaker Igor Coronado.
It is a shock that the Brazilian’s unfancied side are even involved in the traditional season opener, with last term’s deserved Arabian Gulf League title – their first in 23 years – the biggest upset recorded during a decade of professionalism in the UAE. They now face the form team of 2019 – coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena led his employers to twin triumphs in the President and Arabian Gulf Cups.
“It will be an exciting game and it is a game every club wants to play at the start of the season,” said 27-year-old Coronado, ahead of the showpiece at Al Nasr’s redeveloped Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. “This is because you won something.
“That is in the past, though. It will not be an easy game, we have a lot of respect for them.
“Nothing has changed for Sharjah. We’ve kept our mentality and have the same work-rate.
“We hope for the best.”
Shabab Al Ahli finished as AGL runners-up, six points behind the winners. Their season was turned around by October’s visionary call to dispense with Jose Luis Sierra and replace him with ex-Al Wasl tactician Arruabarrena.
This deficit could be directly attributed to Abdulaziz Al Anbari’s King doing the double over them in the league.
“This is a different match and the two teams want to win,” said Arruabarrena, whose President’s Cup triumph gained entry into the weekend game. “We will try not to think that we lost to Sharjah both times in the Arabian Gulf League.
“We need to concentrate more on winning the third time. Only the team that keeps total concentration will win tomorrow.
“The most important thing will be what happens inside the field, based on the experiences of the players. I am telling them to enjoy the match without pressure and the result will follow.”
A burning desire to close the gap has witnessed a busy summer at Shabab Al Ahli. Levski Sofia creator Davide Mariani, Deportivo La Coruna loanee Fede Cartabia and prolific Al Wahda forward Leonardo – the 2019 AFC Champions League’s leading marksman – represent headline additions.
Warm-ups in the AG Cup from a side depleted by the international break generated a draw at Al Ain, plus victories versus Al Jazira and Nasr.
Striker Welliton’s defection to Al Wasl and the €3 million purchase of Partizan Belgrade’s Ricardo Gomes defined Sharjah’s transfer window. They also landed a trio of Emiratis from Wahda in defender Salem Sultan, centre midfielder Mohammed Abdulbasit and winger Tareq Ahmed.
Gomes fired blanks in AG Cup defeats to Bani Yas and Wahda. He then put Ajman to the sword with an ominous ‘perfect’ hat-trick in last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing.
Coronado – who inked a lucrative contract extension to 2023 this week and was named the AGL’s Best Foreign Player in May – was expecting his new team-mate to remain on the goal trail.
He said: “We can already see Ricardo’s quality. A striker lives by scoring goals.
“Once he scored the hat-trick, it took a lot of weight off his bag. I know how much he wants to succeed.
“The group, the coach are all very happy for him. It was an important moment for him to get those goals before this game and the league starting.
“I am sure he is going to help us a lot.”
Sharjah will be aiming for a third Super Cup win in four appearances. For Ahli, from eight appearances across their various guises, victory would draw them level with Al Ain’s leading five.
Tickets for the AG Super Cup can be purchased at dubai.platinumlist.net.